BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army and security personnel deployed around key state institutions and diplomatic establishments Thursday as concerns mounted over Hezbollah-orchestrated gatherings in the capital.
The “light deployment” of army and security forces was part of a comprehensive plan drafted by security institutions in an effort to guarantee stability in anticipation of incidents, a security source told The Daily Star.
Fears of a large-scale breakout of violence rose after another round of Turkish-Qatari mediated talks aimed at bailing out the unsuccessful Saudi-Syrian initiative failed to stem the political crisis among rival Lebanese camps over the disputed probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Echoing the security source, a diplomatic source told The Daily Star that security officials decided on a light deployment of forces, in order to avoid escalating tensions further.
Heightened security arrangements could be seen around the Grand Serail, the seat of the premiership, where caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri still assumes office despite the collapse of his government last week.
Hezbollah supporters gathered at key intersections in the capital as early as 3 a.m. Tuesday with groups of up to 50 men dressed in black uniforms standing their ground until 7 a.m., hours before the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers arrived in Beirut.
March 14 has described Hezbollah’s display of force as a “rehearsal” for a possible armed coup against Lebanese state institutions.
As the Turkish and Qatari officials left Beirut, reports surfaced over the redeployment of Hezbollah elements in the capital Thursday morning. The reports proved to be unfounded.
Other baseless reports suggested that the Lebanese Army raided a popular Greater Beirut hotel and arrested a number of individuals who had arrived in Lebanon on “security missions.”
The Habtoor Hotel in the Beirut suburb of Sin al-Fil denied reports that groups of Arabs tasked with security missions were hosted at the hotel, insisting instead the hotel was hosting 300 Egyptians who were participating in a four-day medical conference.
The army’s press office had earlier released a statement denying the reports. It urged media outlets to refrain from reporting on security issues without receiving prior confirmation.
“We urge media outlets to refrain from reporting security news particularly relating to the army in order to preserve media credibility and to prevent tension among the Lebanese under the current sensitive circumstances the country is witnessing,” it said.
There was lighter traffic than usual in Beirut Thursday, although residents attended jobs and children went to school as normal.
However, Education Minister Hassan Mneimneh said the Lebanese Army’s position was unclear.
In remarks to be published by the Kuwaiti daily Al-Anbaa Friday, Mneimneh said past experiences raised doubts over the Lebanese Army’s ability to remain neutral when Hezbollah forced armed skirmishes, a reference to the events of May 2008 which saw pro- and anti-government gunmen clash in neighborhoods throughout west Beirut.
The army at that time stood aside as factional fighting worsened and 60 died in the worst intra-Lebanese fighting since the 1975-1990 Civil War.